City Hopes For No Violent Protests After Verdict
BALTIMORE – Officer Caesar Goodson, who was driving the police van inside which Freddie Gray incurred his fatal neck injury last April, has been found not guilty of second-degree “depraved heart” murder by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams.
Judge Williams said that the state had failed to prove that the officers in the case had given Gray a “rough ride.” Furthermore, he said that the officers’ only clear mistake was not securing Gray in his seatbelt, although he said this amounted to either a “mistake” or “bad judgement,” but not criminal negligence.
Goodson was seen by many legal experts as the most likely officer in the Freddie Gray trial to be convicted, as he was the van driver responsible for ensuring Gray was securely fastened to his seat before being transported to custody.
This is the second acquittal delivered in the cases surrounding the 25-year-old’s death. Goodson is the third of six officers to stand trial in the death of Freddie Gray.
Goodson, 46, has also been found not guilty on charges of manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
After the verdict was read, protesters began chanting “Murderer!” over and over again outside the courthouse.
Prosecutors said Goodson was criminally negligent for failing to seatbelt Gray in the back of the police van and for failing to call a medic to assist with his injuries. Prosecutors initially said Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride” in the van to intentionally hurt him, but later abandoned that theory during closing arguments.
His acquittal, which comes after Williams considered the charges for three days, throws the rest of the cases into jeopardy. The other officers charged face similar, but lesser accusations.
Williams said the timeline of Gray’s injuries remains unclear, and the state “failed to meet its burden” to present enough evidence to back its assertions.
“As the trier of fact, the court can’t simply let things speak for themselves,” Williams said.
Prosecutors alleged Goodson had five chances to render aid to Gray after his neck was broken in the back of the van, which they said demonstrated a “depraved heart.”
They also said Goodson was the direct cause of the injuries, driving the van in a reckless manner that threw him in the back of the van’s steel cage, shackled but unrestrained by a seat belt. As a certified field training officer, prosecutors said Goodson knew Police Department rules and broke them.
Goodson’s defense attorneys said officers who checked on Gray didn’t know he was seriously injured, and that Goodson deferred to decisions of other officers not to put a seat belt on Gray.
His attorneys also disputed the time frame of Gray’s injuries, placing them later in the van’s journey and therefore offering less chances to intervene, and blamed Gray himself, saying he had been placed on his stomach in the van and stood up.
Gray, 25, died one week after suffering a fatal injury in the back of the police van, touching off citywide protests against police brutality, and rioting, looting and arson on the day of his funeral.
Goodson, a 16-year veteran of the force, elected a bench trial, bypassing a jury and leaving his fate in the hands of Judge Williams, a former city prosecutor who also once investigated police misconduct for the Justice Department.
The first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury and mistrial last December. The second, of Officer Edward Nero, ended last month with Nero being acquitted of all charges by Williams in a bench trial.
Nero and officer Garrett Miller, also charged in the case, were present in the courtroom when Goodson’s verdict was announced.
The next trial, of Lt. Brian Rice, who is charged with manslaughter, is scheduled to begin July 7. The other officers’ trial dates are: Miller (July 27), Porter (Sept. 6) and Sgt. Alicia White (Oct. 13).
All the officers have pleaded not guilty.
Security around the courthouse and around the city have been a concern for some officials and members of the Maryland National Guard are on stand-by as a “last resort.”